Keeping Score

C-USA Top 5: Marshall clear No. 1; ODU creeps into picture

Prior to the season, it was widely assumed that the West Division would be much better than the East in Conference USA. It appears that's not the case.

Marshall, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee, UAB and Western Kentucky have all been mostly solid early on in the East. In the West, North Texas and Louisiana Tech have been extremely erratic – great one week and terrible the next. Defending C-USA champion Rice hasn't won a game. UTEP and UTSA have been fairly consistent while new West member Southern Miss is trying to pick itself up off the mat with a 2-2 record.

The only thing I'm sure of this week is that Marshall is the clear No. 1.

Here is your C-USA Top 5 for week five:

1. Marshall (4-0): The Thundering Herd is the strongest in the No. 1 slot that it's been all season. Marshall has taken care of business and looked good in a 48-17 victory over Akron last week. Marshall gets to sit and watch this week, but the Oct. 4 road game at Old Dominion is suddenly looking a lot tougher than expected.

2. Middle Tennessee (2-2, 1-0): The gap is extremely wide from No. 1 to No. 2 this week, but the Blue Raiders didn't fall off much compared to some of the other teams in the conference. MTSU lost 36-17 at the Liberty Bowl to a Memphis team that appears to be much improved. The Blue Raiders still have a lot to prove.

3. Texas-San Antonio (1-2): The Roadrunners enjoyed the bye week as they watched other C-USA contenders fall on their face last week. They have only one win, but the Roadrunners have a chance to make a statement with a decisive win at FAU this weekend.

4. UAB (2-1): The Blazers also benefited from a bye week and get to host a struggling FIU squad on Saturday. UAB finally has some momentum behind its football program.

5. Old Dominion (3-1, 1-0): The Monarchs earned the right to jump into the rankings after a nice road win at Rice. The Owls aren't as good as they were last year and they have dealt with several injuries, but the Monarchs were impressive Saturday in a 45-42 victory. ODU may not be fully bowl eligible, but they will be a handful the rest of the season.

Dropping out: Louisiana Tech.

C-USA TOP 5 NOTES

C-USA's Star of the Week: ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke was outstanding in Saturday's win at Rice. He completed 27 of 43 passes for 430 yards and five touchdowns.

C-USA's Worst Week: If you lose to an FCS squad, you are automatically handed this dubious honor. Northwestern State beat Louisiana Tech, 30-27, on a last-second field goal. The Bulldogs were riding high after back-to-back dominant wins over Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas, but they came crashing back to earth Saturday. Northwestern State has always had a respectable program, but this loss in Ruston was embarrassing for La. Tech and it's never good for the conference as a whole.

Forgettable weekend: C-USA was feeling pretty good about itself after three weeks with an 11-0 mark against the rest of the Group of 5, but I've been around this conference long enough to know that it's eventually due a disappointing weekend. Middle Tennessee losing at Memphis and FAU falling 20-19 at Wyoming shouldn't be considered poor losses. However, Louisiana Tech's loss to FCS Northwestern State is a terrible outcome for the league. C-USA is still 13-2 against the Group of 5 thanks to USM's 21-20 win over Appalachian State and Marshall's victory over Akron. La. Tech's loss to Northwestern State and FIU's defeat to Bethune-Cookman are weighing the conference down. C-USA has yet to break through with a win over a team from the Power 5, but North Texas has a shot when it travels to Indiana on Oct. 4.

Is ODU for real?: Old Dominion can score on any team in the conference thanks to Heinicke, and it has a chance this week to make an even bigger statement following the win at Rice. ODU hosts Middle Tennessee at 7 p.m. Friday in a game to be televised by Fox Sports 1. This is a chance for ODU to make a positive impression on a national stage. The Monarchs are a 3-point favorite.

Game-changing performance: Over the last three seasons, big-time performances have been hard to come by for the Southern Miss football team. On Saturday, the Golden Eagles had the best individual game by a defensive player in three years. Redshirt senior defensive end Dasman McCullum accounted for 10 tackles, a forced fumble along with a recovery and a blocked extra point with 6 seconds remaining to hand the Eagles a 21-20 victory over Appalachian State. Going forward, McCullum should garner some attention as a potential All-Conference USA performer. He has 18 tackles, 3.5 for lost yardage, one sack and two forced fumbles.

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